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NASA officially set April 29 at the launch date for STS-134 (Endeavour) today. The mission, commanded by Mark Kelly, will lift off at 3:47 pm EDT if all goes as planned.
The six-person crew is nominally scheduled for a 14 day mission. Kelly and four other NASA astronauts will be joined by European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Roberto Vittori. This will be Endeavour's last space flight. It is delivering a scientific instrument, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), to the International Space Station (ISS). AMS is designed to detect cosmic rays in the hope of discovering particles of antimatter in particular.
The launch is attracting special interest not only because it is the last launch of Endeavour, but because Mark Kelly's wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), may be able to attend the launch. She is recovering from an assassination attempt on January 8. Kelly has made clear for weeks that he hopes she will be well enough to attend, but cautions that the decision is in the hands of her doctors.
The Flight Readiness Review (FRR) for the launch of STS-134 (Endeavour) is underway. A news conference is expected to be held no earlier than 4:00 pm EDT today. STS-134 is tentatively set for launch on April 29, but the official date will be set at this meeting. The news conference will be available via NASA TV. Check NASA's Twitter feed for the exact time that it will start.
NASA announced today four new Space Act Agreements with Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada, SpaceX and Boeing in the second round of its Commercial Crew Development (CCDev2) competition. The awards total $269.3 million.
The goal of the CCDev program is for the government to facilitate the commercial development of spacecraft and launch vehicles to take astronauts to and from low Earth orbit (LEO), including the International Space Station (ISS). Instead of NASA contracting for and overseeing these development efforts, it is providing some funding while the companies are expected to provide the rest of the funds themselves -- so-called "skin in the game." Eventually NASA would buy crew transportation services from any successful companies, who presumably would be offering crew space transportation to other customers as well.
The debate over whether NASA should rely on commercial companies for LEO crew transportation has been and remains a subject of intense debate in space policy circles.
NASA hopes at least two companies will succeed so it can benefit from pricing competition and also have a backup if one of the systems fails and is grounded for a lengthy period of time.
The awards today are as follows:
-- Blue Origin, Kent, Wash., $22 million
-- Sierra Nevada Corporation, Louisville, Colo., $80 million
-- Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), Hawthorne, Calif., $75 million
-- The Boeing Company, Houston, $92.3 million
The following events may be of interest in the week ahead. For more information, check our calendar on the right menu or click the links below. The House and Senate are in recess for two weeks for the Passover-Easter-Spring holidays. They will return the first week of May.
Monday-Tuesday, April 18-19
- NASA Advisory Council (NAC) Planetary Science Subcommittee (of the Science Committee), NASA Headquarters, Washington DC.
- April 18, 8:30 am - 5:00 pm EDT, room 3H46
- April 19, 8:30 am - 4:00 pm EDT, room 5H45
- This meeting also is accessible by telephone and WebEx. See the Federal Register notice for more information.
Thursday, April 21
Thursday-Friday, April 21-22
- NASA Advisory Council (NAC) Science Committee, NASA Headquarters, Washington DC
- April 21, 8:30 am - 4:00 pm EDT, room 5H45
- April 22, 8:30 am - 2:00 pm EDT, room 5H45
- This meeting also is accessible for telephone and WebEx. See the Federal Register notice for more information.
In testimony to a Senate Commerce subcommittee on Wednesday, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco reiterated a warning she made earlier to a House committee that a gap in polar weather satellite data is "very likely" because Congress is not providing adequate funding for the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS).
Responding to a question from subcommittee chairman Senator Mark Begich (D-AK), Lubchenco said that because the full-year FY2011 Continuing Resolution (CR) did not contain sufficient funding for JPSS, there will be "at least" an 18-month data gap because the launch date will slip by that many months, to September 2016 at the earliest. The gap will have "very serious consequences to our ability to do severe storm warnings, long term weather forecasts, search and rescue, and good weather forecasts for your State." she told the Senator. Alaska benefits in particular from polar weather satellites since geostationary weather satellites, over the equator, do not have a good view of the polar regions.
When asked if there was a "Plan B," she said that there really were no alternatives and NOAA was trying to "figure out how to miminize the damage." She told the Senate committee, as she did the House, that for every dollar that is not spent now, the country will need to spend $3-5 in the future because contracts will have to be cancelled and restarted, and skilled workers will be let go and rehired.
At the very end of the hearing, Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) wanted to know what was driving NOAA's budget increase of 41 percent compared to its FY2008 level. Lubchenco said that she had not done a comparison with FY2008, but said satellites are the driver of current budget request increases. Defending the satellite program, Lubchenco said "a lot of people" ask "why do I need your satellites [when] I have the Weather Channel, but that's where we get 98 percent of the information that goes into our weather forecasts...Satellites do a wide variety of things that are very important to saving lives and property and enabling commerce in our country."
A webcast of the hearing before the subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard is available on the Senate Commerce committee's website. The discussion of NOAA satellites was a very small part of the hearing, which focused on fisheries issues.
The House passed H. Con. Res. 34 on Friday setting amounts for total government revenues and spending for each of the next 10 fiscal years (FY2012-2021). Overall, it calls for cutting government spending by $6.2 trillion over the next 10 years compared to President Obama's FY2012 budget request (or $5.8 trillion compared to current spending) and brings non-security discretionary spending to "below FY2008 levels." NASA and NOAA are included in that category of spending.
The House and Senate are supposed to agree on a budget resolution before determining annual appropriations levels for federal agencies. As explained in a Congressional Research Service report, the budget resolution "represents an agreement between the House and Senate that establishes budget priorities and defines the parameters for all subsequent budgetary actions." But the House and Senate do not always reach agreement, and sometimes one or both will not pass a budget resolution at all. Last year neither chamber passed a budget resolution. This budget resolution is seen as largely symbolic with no chance of being adopted by the Senate, and President Obama made a speech on April 13 outlining his own fiscal priorities, drawing sharp differences with the House. All House Democrats voted against it, along with four Republicans. The vote was 235-193. The Hill newspaper has an interesting account of the chaotic day on the House floor.
Nevertheless, the House budget resolution will be used to set "302(b)" allocation levels for each of the 12 House appropriations subcommittees establishing the top line amount of money they can spend on the agencies and programs under their jurisdiction. Budget resolutions do not identify funding by agency, but by "Function." NASA's space spending is part of Function 250, general science, space and technology, while funding for its aeronautics programs are in Function 400, Transportation. (NOAA is part of function 300, Natural Resources and Environment. DOD is Function 050, Defense.)
The House Budget Committee's formal report to accompany the resolution (H. Rept. 112-58) notes that about half of the money in Function 250 is for NASA space activities. The rest is for the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy Office of Science, and Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate.
Regarding NASA, H. Rept. 112-58 states that the budget resolution "recognizes the vital strategic importance of the United States to remain the pre-eminent space-faring Nation." It adds, however, that the President's FY2012 budget request for the agency "shifted priorities away" from the 2010 NASA Authorization Act "by allocating $2 billion to commercial cargo and crew and Earth Science climate change initiatives. The budget [resolution] aligns funding in accordance with the NASA authorization and its specified spending limits to support robust space capability."
Total budget authority (BA) for Function 250 would drop from $29 billion in FY2011 to $27 billion in FY2012 and remain there until FY2017 when it increases to $28 billion for two years, then back to $29 billion in FY2019 and FY2020, and finally $30 billion in FY2021. With NASA's space activities being about half that total, it is clear the agency would be operating under severe constraints if this approach was adopted.
No NOAA-specific text is included in the committee's report, but Function 300 would drop from $32 billion in FY2011 and FY2012 to $29 billion in FY2013, then down to $25 billion the next year and vary between $25 billion and $28 billion for the remainder of the 10-year period.
National defense (function 050) would increase from $561 billion in FY2011 to $583 billion in FY2012 and increase steadily to $703 billion by FY2021. Nevertheless, a report issued by the committee, The Path to Prosperity, says that the budget "reflects $178 billion in savings identified" by Secretary of Defense Gates, "reinvesting $100 billion in higher military priorities and dedicating the rest to deficit reduction."
The House and Senate have each passed the full-year Continuing Resolution (CR) that funds the government for the rest of FY2011.
The bill, H.R. 1473, passed the House by a vote of 260-167 and the Senate by a vote of 81-19. It funds NASA at $18.485 billion, The President is expected to sign the bill into law quickly.
NASA Administrator Bolden issued a statement saying that he appreciates the work of Congress and the agency is committed to "living within our means" as well as "carrying out our ambitious new plans for exploration and discovery."
Brett Alexander, who has led the Commercial Spaceflight Federation as the Obama Administration embraced commercial crew as the solution to transporting astronauts to and from the International Space Station, is stepping down. He will be succeeded by Rear Admiral Craig Steidle (Ret.) as President of the Federation.
Alexander is a well known and respected member of the space policy community who, among other things, worked for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush Administrations. He was one of the key participants in shaping President Bush's Vision for Space Exploration (VSE), announced by the President in January 2004.
Adm. Steidle was the first NASA Associate Administrator for the "exploration" mandate following the VSE speech. Appointed by then-NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe immediately after the speech, Steidle had won kudos for his management of DOD's Joint Strike Fighter program. His expertise in managing large, complex, technologically-challenging military government programs was cited as a particular strength. He left the agency soon after O'Keefe in mid 2005 and is currently a distinguished visiting professor at his alma mater, the U.S. Naval Academy, and a consultant since then.
Steidle assumes the position of President of the Federation on May 15.
In a statement, Federation Chairman Eric Anderson praised Steidle as a "true visionary who knows that commercial spaceflight is the key to unlocking humanity's future in space."
We have updated our fact sheet on the status of NASA's FY2011 appropriations. The update reflects the compromise agreement reached by President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Reid, and House Speaker Boehner last Friday (April 8) and the details determined by appropriators and released on Tuesday (April 12).
The bill incorporpating the agreement, H.R. 1473, is scheduled for a vote in the House tomorrow. The House and Senate must pass and the President must sign the bill before the current short-term Continuing Resolution (CR), P.L. 112-8, expires on Friday. Otherwise, another short-term CR will be needed to keep the government operating.
Under the compromise reflected in H.R. 1473, NASA will get $18.485 billion for FY2011. That is $241 million less than its FY2010 appropriations (the level at which it is currently operating), and $515 million less than the President's request for FY2011. Congress authorized the same level as the President's request in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act (P.L. 111-267), so the difference between the appropriation and the authorization also is $515 million. (For an explanation of the difference between an authorization and an appropriation, see our What's a Markup? fact sheet.)
The bill also would relieve NASA of a number of constraints that were included in the FY2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 111-117) that are still in effect because Congress has not passed an appropriations bill to countermand them. Many limited NASA's flexibility in shifting money from one program to another. One prevented NASA from terminating the Constellation program or initiating a replacement program until Congress passed a subsequent appropriations act permitting it to do so. That restriction also is eliminated by H.R. 1473.
UPDATE: The story has been updated to add information about objections from the Texas congressional delegation, and two bills that have been introduced.
During a media teleconference this afternoon, NASA Assistant Administrator for the Office of Strategic Infrastructure, Olga Dominguez, said that she had been "isolated" from political pressure as the lead person in recommending to NASA Administrator Bolden the disposition of the four space shuttle orbiters. That may change. Five members of the Ohio congressional delegation are calling for a Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation of how the locations -- three on the east coast, one on the west coast, none in the center of the country -- were chosen.
Senator Sherrod Brown (D - OH) blasted the decision not to pick Ohio's National Air Force Museum in Dayton. "NASA ignored the intent of Congress ... to consider regional diversity when determining shuttle locations," he said in a press statement.
In a letter to the head of GAO, Brown and four Ohio Representatives -- Marcy Kaptur, Michael Turner, Steve Austria, and Steve LaTourette --asked for a "review of the policies and practices" of NASA and the Smithsonian Institution's "disposition of the shuttle program related property." The letter cites language in the 2008 and 2010 NASA Authorization Acts stipulating how the process was to be carried out. During the media teleconference, Ms. Rodriguez emphasized that the process did, indeed, comply with those laws.
NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC) near Houston also was not one of the winners. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) expressed "deep disappointment" and noted that the law directed NASA to give priority to locations with strong historical ties to NASA. "It is unthinkable that the home of human space flight would not represent the ideal home for a retired orbiter," she said. Mike Coats, Director of JSC and a former astronaut, said that he was "personally disappointed," but "Regardless of today's outcome, JSC ... will continue to share the excitement of human spaceflight for decades to come."
Seventeen members of the Texas delegation in the House wrote a letter to Mr. Bolden asking pointed questions about the decision to move Enterprise to the Intrepid Air, Sea and Space museum in New York City. The upshot was that if the questions are not answered satisfactorily, they will "do everything in our power in Congress, including legislation to prevent the transfer" of the Enterprise to New York, which, as they stress, is only "224 miles" from the Smithsonian's Udvar-Hazy Center where it is currently displayed. They want it transferred to Houston, instead.
Rep. Shiela Jackson-Lee (D-TX) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) each introduced legislation last week regarding the disposition of the space shuttles, the texts of which are not yet available. Rep. Chaffetz introduced H.R. 1536 on April 14, and Rep. Jackson-Lee introduced H.R. 1590 on April 15.
Events of Interest
- Science Writers 2014, October 17-21, 2014, Columbus, OH
- UN/Mexico Symposium on Making Space Technology Accessible and Affordable, October 20, 2014, Ensenada, Mexico (some portions will be webcast)
- ISS Spacewalk (Russia), October 22, 2014, Earth Orbit, spacewalk begins 9:24 am ET (NASA TV coverage begins 9:00 am ET)
- American Society for Gravitational & Space Research, October 22-26, 2014, Pasadena, CA
- 3rd Annual Space and Satellite Regulatory Colloquium, October 23, 2014, W Hotel, Washington, DC, 7:30 am - 4:30 pm ET
- WSBR Panel on Future of SATCOM in Support of DOD, October 23, 2014, University Club, Washington, DC, 11:30 am - 1:30 pm ET
- AIAA Natl Capital Section Luncheon Featuring NASA's Chris Scolese, October 23, 2014, Army Navy Country Club, Arlington, VA, 11:30 am - 1:30 pm ET
- NEW SpX-4 Returns to Earth, October 25, 2014: release from ISS 9:56 am ET (NASA TV coverage begins 9:30 am ET); splashdown (no live coverage) 3:39 pm ET
- TENTATIVE Orb-3 Cargo Launch to ISS, October 27, 2014, Wallops Island, VA, 6:44 pm ET (tentative until impact of Hurricane Gonzalo on Bermuda is known)
Full calendar of future events (with filters)-click here »
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